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1-4 Founding Documents

American Founding Documents and People’s Law

1. The Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776)
a. The document explains the reasons the thirteen colonies decided to separate
from Great Britain and to form an independent country.
b. The Declaration makes clear the philosophy on which the U.S. is based:
i. The power of the government comes from the people of that country (“the
consent of the governed”)
ii.If a government ignores the will of the people, the people have a right to
change the government.
iii.“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
c. The signers of the Declaration knew they could be signing their death
warrants. They would be hung for high treason if caught by the British.
d. They knew the risks but believed their actions were worth “our lives, our
fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
2. Articles of Confederation (drafted 1777, ratified 1781)
a. The Declaration of Independence was not designed to organize a government.
The new country needed to unite to fight and win their war with Britain.
b. The Articles of Confederation set up a “firm league of friendship” where each
state would have equal powers and in most ways was to be independent of the
other states.
c. The states were responsible for enforcing the national laws (any problems here?)
After their experience with King George III, Americans were suspicious of
strong leaders who could limit their freedoms.
d. The United States was very weak during and after the long War for
Independence. The Articles of Confederation did not give the government
power to solve its problems. Weakness of the Confederation:
i. No executive to speak or act for the nation in case of emergency.
ii.No national judiciary to deal with cases between states, piracy, or high
iii.No means of enforcing national laws (except by declaring war on a state).
iv.No power to regulate interstate commerce.
v.No power to regulate foreign commerce except by specific treaties.
vi.No ability to collect taxes from the states.
1-4 Founding Documents

1. Congress and the Continental Army relied upon the voluntary

donations of the states.
e. States’ quarrels were losing America credibility in the rest of the world when
they needed aid in their effort against the British
f. The Articles of Confederation were good in theory, but too close to anarchy.
g. In 1787 Congress asked the states to send representatives to revise the

3. People’s Law
a. Our Founders would not understand our modern definitions of political “left”
as communism and “right” as fascism.
i. These are simply different names for a police state.
b. The Founders had a different scale:
i. “too little government”  anarchy, to the right
ii.“too much government”  tyranny, to the left
c. In many of the Founders writings they despised tyranny but feared anarchy (or
The Articles of Confederation weighted the
mobocracy – rule of the
government mob) even
of America more.
on the side of anarchy rather
than tyranny. It still was not in the balanced center.
1-4 Founding Documents

d. They wished to find a “medium point” or balanced center between anarchy

and tyranny.
e. The formula must provide enough government to insure order and justice but
not so much government that it could abuse the people.
4. A Difficult Balance
a. Our Founders observed that governments tend toward tyranny OR anarchy.
b. When people throw off the burdens of tyranny they are often lead by
revolutionaries and not those educated in political science or self-governance.
c. The chaos of the people turns into a cry to “restore order” and a tyrant steps up
to take control… leaving the revolution where it began.
i. Example: the French Revolution (King Louis  Revolution  Emperor Napoleon)